Love me tender,
Love me sweet,
Never let me go.
You have made my life complete,
And I love you so.

"Cancel all that shit I had to do today, Red. I gotta get down, man."

E had been out of touch with the Master and He was calling. There was a rumor that Neal the Biker over on Lancaster has scored a bunch of pills. That would be good, 'cause that fucking asshole Dave never showed up last night. You've got an open gate to Graceland, and you don't even bother to drive your goddamned Chevy over here? That's bullshit, man. And that's half a dozen times E had waited around for Dave when he said he'd be over in half an hour and never showed. You think it's hard being told you ain't welcome at the Maui Hilton no more? That ain't jack shit, brother, compared to being stood up by one of your dealers when you need a fix.

In the back of E's mind, he thought, "You know what? The sad thing is I'll be sitting here waiting on Dave to show up again, just a couple of days from now." E was a contemplative philosopher when he put his mind to it. That's what he told himself right that minute. He called himself "E" even in his own mind.

Yeah, the King had fallen in with some strange bedfellows here in what should have been the prime of his career. He blamed it on the Colonel. He blamed it on Hollywood. He blamed it on Dr. Nick, but he never really got around to blaming it on the real culprit. He felt as if he was waiting in a deserted train station in the middle of the night with hapless zombies for company, and he kept wondering why a man with his fame and fortune would want to take the same train they were on. He kept telling himself that it must be some sort of dream and everything would be fine when he woke up tomorrow.

The fact was, E was at the point where he never went anywhere without at least a half-clean spike in his jacket pocket, and his body was constantly vibrating to that slow hum like every junkie has when he's calling the Master and he ain't real sure when He's going to arrive. That hum can reach a frequency which can cause dogs to howl. One dog howls and a hundred others howl at the noise. Thus flows the sickness.

When the Master did arrive in that desperate train station, E would load Him into his pocket and take that frizzled ride home. That's when thoughts of tomorrow or next week or any sort of Day Planner list went flying out the rolled-down window along with the ashes of Red's nervous cigarette. Red never liked all this drug mess and he realized way too late that E was in a swimming pool of serious trouble so deep that it was going to take Divine Intervention to save him from drowning.

E's belly was cramping as they pulled back into the driveway and rushed inside. The phone could have been ringing with news of a new Grammy nomination or Lisa Marie in the hospital: It would not have mattered. For now and forever, there was only the quest for the rush.

Love me tender,
Love me true,
All my dreams fulfilled.
For my darlin’ I love you,
And I always will.

E would tell them when they asked (as the boys often did, especially when they'd not been paid that week) that first of all they had to understand how it was primarily about the rush. He told them how you don't understand the rush the first few times, so you got to be diligent. He said that the first few times he did it, he was overwhelmed by the danger of it all. He told the boys that he got so violently ill soon after the injection that he danced right past the beauty of the rush. "Perseverance is of the utmost importance here," he'd say in that tone of voice that made him sound like a mix between a black gospel singer and a white Mississippi politician. E would tell himself that life is like peeling an onion, and this is just that next layer which he was willing to examine and Red was not. He would actually say the words, "Life is like peeling an onion, E," inside his own head. He was starting to resent Red's smug assurance that doing this shit might be a bad idea.

If only E could explain to the sanctimonious bastard that it ain't just "like sex" but that it was better than sex. Not that he hadn't had the best, either. Well, there was a lot of looking at the brunettes in their white underwear through the peepholes and joking and jerking around about sex, but E had bagged his share of real ones face to face, too. He had a daughter to show for it, didn't he? By God. So there wasn't no way that he was using drugs as a cover for not being able to really please a woman. Hell, no. And if Red was thinking that, he was going to get his ass fired sooner than later.

Anyway, E really felt the desire to try and explain the reason folks use "sex" as a metaphor for what he was doing. He'd tell them that it was actually quite different than sex but that the reason folks use that image is because of the warm feeling which creeps up your spine and explodes somewhere in the back of your head. He'd say, "Hell, sex only felt that way the first time you had it, didn't it? The rush feels that way every time you want it. Sex is really more of a feeling in your belly than in your head when you try to compare it to the rush." Just talking about it fed the need which soon turned into an urge.

So, there the King was, sitting on the toilet with his pants around his knees, a cigarette lighter in one hand and a spoon in the other. Most of the rest of Memphis was asleep while he cooked up the Master and tried to eke out a pre-rush crap just before the deal went down. He sat the spoon down on the floor and put a piece of cotton in there to draw up the Master. He'd already placed a glass of clean water there on the floor at his feet. (E was a forward-thinking genius. He said that phrase in his head, "Forward-thinking," as he was sucking up the liquid into the syringe.)

He held the syringe upright, needle pointing at the ceiling, and in a moment worthy of any James Dean pissant celluloid glory (for this was his money shot) he used his right thumb to press the plunger until the Master was the sole inhabitant of that precious space. He engaged his left middle finger to flick the barrel of the syringe a couple of times in order to force any tiny air bubbles to the top of the chamber. With a casual toss of the head during which he could see his once mousy brown but now totally falsified jet black hair move from east to west, he forced a few drops of the Master out into the shaggy Graceland air, just to make sure there was a tight liquid seal inside. Then he brought the instrument down and found the vein.

E was so much at one with himself and this endeavor that he did not need rubber or belt or other artificial restraint for his arm. His hungry vein was bulging on its own, calling out to the Master as if it were a tiny hatchling, desperate and starving for the worm its mother was offering.

And then came the rush.

It began at the base of his spine and then moved its way up E's back to the nape of his neck. That entire movement, lasting less that fifteen seconds, was the prequel. The rush then flooded the back of his head with a warmth he had not known since his mom tucked him in back in Tupelo, Mississippi, and kissed his forehead and told him that he was loved and everything would be just fine. Just fine. Just fine.

Love me tender,
Love me long,
Take me to your heart.
For it’s there that I belong,
And we’ll never part.

Inside his head, E said, "Yeah. Come for the rush; stay for the nod. That'd sum it up pretty darn good. I should write a song about that. Oh, that's right. E don't write 'em, does he?" He laughed a little bit but it mostly came out as a sort of gurgle.

He was rinsing out his syringe and trying to halt the blood flow in that golden arm. He was in that transitional space between the rush and the nod. Being the intelligent fellow he was, he had an ice cube handy for that arm in order to incur as little bruising as possible. Folks like the Colonel didn't really know all about his little hobby, did they? He drew up a dozen or so barrelfuls of clean water and then put the cap back on the syringe so that it'd be clean for next time. There would be a next time, and it probably wouldn't be long coming if that goddamn Dave would ever show back up. It would be a few hours of relief for the King, though. After all, you can't shoot narcotics every fifteen minutes, like you would cocaine. Well, you could, but you'd only do it once.

Now it was time to go over there and spend some serious time on that couch. That couch has been home to many a man for many a century, and now E was one of them. This was a Club he was born to be a member of.

As per usual in this state, E wasn't in the mood to do anything productive, like read or write or talk or screw. He wanted to listen to some music. He told Red to put on "Love Me Tender." E always liked that one the best. It reminded him of those make-out scenes with Debra Paget back in '56. Damn, that seemed like a lifetime ago as E lay there on that couch while the song played in the background.

Red asked him, "What the heck is it with the credits on that song, anyway, E? Did that Vera Matson chick really write that with you?"

E could just barely manage a snicker as the drool puddled near the left corner of his mouth. He leaned up just enough to prop himself on his elbow and said, "Red, you are one dumb sumbitch, ain't you? That's just an old folk song called 'Aura Lee' from somewhere back around the Civil War. That sumbitch Ken Darby wrote that take on it for me. You remember him, don't you? He was the one who wrote 'We're Gonna Move,' 'Poor Boy' and 'Let Me'? The Colonel told him he was gonna have to share songwriting credit with my fat ass if he wanted in on the action, and it pissed him off so much he said to put his wife's name on there 'cause he didn't want no part of it. That song made him a fuckin' fortune and he never got no credit for it. Stupid bastard."

The shot of narcotics helped alleviate E's guilt about this matter. For about four hours.

Love me tender,
Love me dear,
Tell me you are mine.
I’ll be yours through all the years,
Till the end of time.

In 1996, Terry Moore, Jim Lee, Kurt Busiek, and James Robinson formed the Homage imprint as a medium for creator-owned comics. Moore brought his award-winning Strangers in Paradise series along, and published it through Homage for the first eight issues of its third series. For the first time, the adventures of Francine, Katchoo, and David appeared in color. The first five of these issues have been collected under the title Love Me Tender, and they introduce arguably the strongest segment of the series. This trade paperback, the fourth, retains the color for a short segment which, Wizard of Oz-like, introduced color to the original series after two pages of black-and-white. It also features a cameo by Bruce Wayne.

Title: Love Me Tender (Issues #1-5 of the third series)1
Author: Terry Moore.
Superhero sequence illustrated by Jim Lee.
ISBN: 1-892597-03-9

Expect some spoilers.

Strangers in Paradise has always stood apart from most contemporary comics, but Love Me Tender opens with a depiction of the central characters as superheroes. The artwork differs dramatically from previous issues, and this is not surprising; Terry Moore turned over the illustrator’s job to Jim Lee, best-known for his work on X-Men, Batman, and similar titles. This segment nicely parodies the genre for a few pages, before Moore takes the pen again and reveals that the mock-heroic events have been taking place in Francine’s mind. Readers likely expected that twist. Moore immediately provides a more surprising one.

The woman who wakes from the four-color dream is an older, heavier, and forlorn Francine, a married woman with a five-year-old daughter. Later, while awaiting her husband in a restaurant, she sees Katchoo-- for the first time in a decade.

The story then flashes back to the familiar characters and setting, years earlier, shortly after their move to the flat owned by Margie McCoy. Francine gets a new job, and the relationship among the three principals grows increasingly complicated. This issue continues to mine their lives and relationships—- Francine’s, in particular—- for their comedic potential. Francine and Katchoo frolic in their new apartment. Francine gets a new job in a segment which satirizes corporate culture and advertising.

Love Me Tender also revisits past gags. The running joke of prurient neighbors (a nod to the fact that the characters’ lives are on display—in a comic book) continues. In place of the male voyeur who lived next door to their old house, we have a disinterested husband ("I believe you, Phoebe. I'll look at the naked girl later, ok?") and a wife whose angry denunciation of the "wild girls" reveals buried sexual fantasies ("They make me wear leather!"). Pat, the loser lothario who last appeared as a video clerk, now has a job as a valet. His way with women hasn’t improved at all.

This story illustrates the risks faced by writers who publish their work serially, although the problem created in Love Me Tender could not be recognized until much later. Flashing forward ten years provides an excellent structural device. It will become an important part of the series, and help give shape to Strangers in Paradise. Of course, flashing forward creates the potential for continuity problems, and Moore’s decision to include a cameo by Casey Femur does just that.

The older Francine had to meet someone from her past besides Katchoo, and Moore selected Casey who, at the time, was a minor character whom he’d been playing for laughs. As the series progressed, Moore and his readership grew to like Casey, and he made her an integral part of the story. While it is entirely plausible that a married, maternal Francine would have lost contact with Casey, the conversation they have will no longer make much sense after events depicted in future issues.

Nothing terribly original happens in this part of the story; the treatment of the events is imaginative and innovative. The varying angles, the play between pictures and words, the use of wordless panels, and the attention to detail have all made him a favorite among comic readers and artists. At one point, we’re led to believe that two characters are about to have sex; the next page features a suggestive depiction of the sounds of lovemaking, which end to reveal two entirely different characters. One of them appears to be exhausted. Moore uses a clever device to reveal that, in fact, the sound and the fury of the previous page have taken up very little time.

Although SiP can be read as a loose graphic novel, this trade paperback clearly tells the first half of a specific story arc or chapter. It concerns the characters’ relationships. The second half, which appears in Immortal Enemies, focuses on the thriller aspects of the story. The link between the two is the enigmatic Rachel, Chuck’s girlfriend and Francine’s new colleague.

Throughout, Moore continues to juggle realism, parody, satire, and comic-book silliness. Love Me Tender features some of SiP’s shining moments.


1.It's a Good Life!, the third anthology, collected issues 10-13 of the second series, which actually ran fourteen issues. Issue #14, however, featured the experimental story of Molly & Poo, which only tenuously connected to Strangers in Paradise. Much later, #14 was collected with two other Molly and Poo-related issues. Save for one short segment, this doesn’t really form a part of the Strangers in Paradise graphic novel, though it makes an interesting read.

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